Jun 232013

Cherry pie!

Living in western Washington state (as I did in my late teens), there are certain things that one begins to take for granted. Yes, the weather will be oppressive for fully three-quarters of the year. Yes, you’re living under the ever-present threat of volcano eruptions. Yes, the coffee is ubiquitous and awesome. Ditto the beer. (They’re called coping mechanisms.) Yes, the seafood department will be larger and better-stocked than the meat department. (This is awesome.) But by far, one of the best things that you start to take for granted around there is the summer fruit.

I have memories of midnight runs, galloping past strawberry fields that I couldn’t see, but could smell. I have memories of picking up flats upon flats of freshly-picked berries from local farms on my way home from swim practice. And yes, I have memories of the splat-pattern they made on the dash and windshield when I had to slam on the brakes. But perhaps most of all, I remember the pies: oh, the pies. Blueberry & raspberry, strawberry, and of course, my favorite: bing cherry.

Super-dark and delicious bing cherries

It’s something I wait for all year. Around May, the too-red bings start showing up in the grocery stores. Mister Om-Nom Sauce — whose absolute favorite fruit is the cherry — starts badgering me then to buy them. But he doesn’t understand (or, more likely, care). He’s never lived in the Pacific northwest and he doesn’t know that the proper color of a bing cherry is black. These will eventually trickle in to the produce departments, but not until June (or even July), and which point I pounce. I buy pounds and pounds of them, eating them until my fingers are stained black, fighting off Mister Om-Nom Sauce so that I too can get my fill. And I also have to zealously guard the extra cherries I buy for the fresh cherry pie I will make. Look, people, I only make two (sweet) pies a year (pumpkin for Thanksgiving is the other), so this is like the main event of summer in my kitchen.

But now we live in Ohio, far far away from the Pacific northwest — farther, in fact, than I’ve lived since, well, before I moved there at 15 — and I’m starting to fret, for it is three-quarters of the way through June and there are no cherries in the grocery stores. I had initially been wondering what the heck I was going to do about the crust since butter is currently grasa non grata for me and an all-lard crust is so delicate that a lattice would be impossible (I’ve since solved this problem; see the variations section at the end of the recipe for details if you need ’em). But now I find myself with an even worse conundrum of no cherries!

(Sour) cherry pie!

I have found a modicum of solace at the local farmers’ market though: a local vendor was selling sour pie-cherries, so I promptly bought up a pie’s worth. It’s not quite the same as a bing pie, but it’ll do until the good stuff makes its way to Ohio.

I will post this nonetheless though, because surely there are those out there with a happy surfeit of bings who are looking for a recipe. I offer up photos from pies past which are doing nothing to slake my desire of this pastry and am only now beginning to understand that last summer, when I made two pies simultaneously (which required being on my feet for hours, making crusts and pitting fruit) despite being seven months pregnant, that it was a really good idea to make all those pies because the extra tastes I enjoyed then are likely to have to last me through a sadly cherry-less (and thus cheer-less) summer.

(Sour) cherry pie!

Cherry pie (albeit with sour cherries). No one has ever given me a prize for clean pie-slice extraction. True story.

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Mar 102013

Corned beef and cabbage

For years after striking out on my own, I had a dilemma on my hands: being the great-grand-daughter of Irish immigrants, I absolutely love a good corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day, but I’d be lying if I said I could make a decent one back then. I tried a new cooking method every year, and every year it was the same story: just barely-avoided unmitigated disaster. But really, let’s face it: how could I possibly hope to achieve success when I was starting with a highly-questionable hunk of preternaturally pink meat and (more often than not) throwing it in a pot of water to boil. Of course I was doomed (doomed!) to fail!

But a couple of years ago, someone cut from, well, exactly the same cloth as me posted a recipe on NPR’s Kitchen Window. It was all about how to cure your own beef brisket and included not a small amount of nose-super-high-in-the-air food-snobbery (which I usually try to suppress, but let’s face it, it’s always there) and a hefty amount of embracing the art of cooking with booze. This, I thought to myself, could be the end of my woes!

So, about a week out from the venerable holiday, I set out to find myself a beef brisket — a plain ol’ one that hadn’t been subjected to salt-peter and god-knows-what other chemicals along with the traditional corned beef spice-packet. And it was nearly bloody impossible! It seems that in March, almost all of the beef briskets get processed into corned beef and it can be extremely difficult to find one au naturale (well, as au naturale as super-market beef gets — oh, and there’s that food-snob I was warning you about!). So don’t be afraid to ask the butcher if there are any squirreled away in the back, and don’t be surprised if the butcher tries to hand you a package of corned beef.

So two years ago, I tried this out for the first time. The beef didn’t get to cure for the full week (see: it’s hard to find a beef brisket a week before St Patrick’s Day), but it was still fully delicious. It was also easier to execute than I had ever imagined. I had a group of friends over for dinner and we polished that sucker off. I’m not gonna lie: it was impressive. I had intended to use the left-overs in Reuben sandwiches, but I wasn’t too upset about it since my lack meant that the party had been a success. Last year, we repeated the recipe (though I started looking for briskets much earlier that year) and since I was pregnant at the time, the booze that was in this recipe (which had of course been de-alcohol-ized by cooking) was the only beer I had (sadness!). That year, though, the left-overs were plentiful due to fewer guests and more meat and the Reubens flowed (more on that in a later post). This year’s brisket is already curing on March 3rd and I can’t wait to taste it again. So won’t you join me in forgoing creepy pink meat and finding out how easy it can be to make something utterly superior, even if you’ll be too toasty on Irish Car-Bombs to notice.


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Mar 082013

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

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Feb 172013

Mimi's waffles

If there’s one thing that every kid needs, it’s a partner in crime. Growing up, I felt as though my Dad’s step-mother was that person. We always delighted in each other’s company and getting to spend time with her was simultaneously a treat and an adventure because she totally cashed in on Grandmother’s Privilege and spoiled us rotten.

There was a comforting ritual that came with visiting her house overnight: I (and sometimes my brother too, but sometimes not) would get dropped off. I’d go visit the stuffed buzzard in my grandfather’s study, then I’d go play Candy Land with Mimi, and before bed she would conspiratorially make me a bowl of bananas and whipped cream. When I’d awake in the morning, the crown jewel of my visit would be waiting for me: golden, crisp, delicious, I-never-got-these-at-home waffles. With real butter, no less — something I only ever saw at her house, since I grew up in the 80’s when everyone (excepting Mimi, of course) thought that margarine was better for you.

Along with the food, of course, there are other memories: the way Mimi and I would talk over those contraband goodies she’d make for me every visit, the way we were always so excited to see each other, the way she would giggle when something I would say just plainly tickled her pink. The way she could listen to you like you were the only person on the planet that mattered. I don’t remember a ton of specific conversations, but like my maternal grandmother, I remember the way she made me feel, which as my cousin Lindsay pointed out, is the best legacy you can leave behind. She was a great partner in crime for a kid to have growing up.

And so, when she died last November, I was very sad to realize that my own daughter wouldn’t get to know her as I remembered her. So I clung to what I could: I claimed that tattered old box of Candy Land, the novel we all considered integral to her personality, and this recipe, which I got from her on a phone call twenty years ago and which I’ve been making ever since, and I’ll hold fast to the hope that these things can help culture the same things for Leah as they did for me: a sense of warmth, safety, love, and compatriotism that will last her a lifetime.

Mimi's waffles

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Jan 062013

Chicken tortilla soup

Names are funny things.

Take this soup, for instance: tortilla soup. I think that ostensibly, this type of soup is usually served with strips of fried corn tortillas or (in a pinch) bits of tortilla chips… or something. I’m not really sure. To me, this is tortilla soup, though nary a flat-bread has ever graced it, as far as I know.

And really, that’s fine with me. I’m normally kind of stickler for those sorts of things: I like to know what things are called and how to use names and terms properly, because they mean something. In this case, though? Whatevs. See, this is my grandmother’s recipe, and far be it from me to go changing the title. She was a wise old bird, so I figure that she knew what she was talking about.

And really, once you throw on a goodly hand-full of cilantro, squeeze on plenty of lime, stir in half a bit of an avocado, and take a bite of this, who cares what it’s called? You may find that after all, the only truly appropriate name is get-in-my-face soup, and isn’t that the only name that matters?

Chicken tortilla soup

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Dec 232012

Turkey pot-pie, fresh out of the oven!

The day after Thanksgiving is such a culinary conundrum. You, having just spent three days prepping and cooking food for your Thursday table, are exhausted come Friday. The last thing you want to do is slave over a stove some more. You’re covered for lunch, since you can nosh on turkey sandwiches or, perhaps, a salad composed of your favorite leftovers (which I did again this year), but what do you do when it comes time for dinner? You could indulge your inner child and just have pumpkin pie (topped with your very own bourbon whipped cream, natch), but if you’re sick of sweet stuff, may I suggest a more savory pie?

Rolling out crust for pot pie

Now, you may be rolling your eyes at me since I just acknowledged that the last thing you want to do is slave over a stove, but stick with me because I promise it’s worth it. This dish is in the classic tradition of re-inventing your leftovers into something completely different, and if you’ve already taken certain steps during your Thanksgiving prep, you’ll have shockingly little to do. For example: make two pie crusts instead of just the one that’s required for your pumpkin confection and save it in your fridge and you have a ready-made crust for your pot-pie. Use leftover turkey instead of poaching something anew. Make a couple of extra cups of stock during your Thanksgiving prep, or borrow a couple cups from the turkey stock that’s simmering away on the stove (because you are going to make soup, right?). Cheat and reach for a couple of freezer-veggies, saving you some prep. Yes, there’s a roux. Don’t let that scare you off though, as it’s the easiest roux ever. Banish from your mind the memory of stirring that roux for étouffée for a half-hour straight.

Crust cut-out

So this recipe is an example of a post-Thanksgiving success. In fact, it was so successful, that we’ve decided that it’s a new tradition for us. After all, it’s a home-made gravy chock full of deliciousness nestled under a home-made blanket of pastry goodness, and it’s a way to use your turkey without having to resort to sandwiches. What’s not to love?

And for good measure, here’s the cell-phone-photo I took of the original pot pies (as the other photos were taken from pies made later from left-over components). My Mom cut a “p”-shaped vent-hole for my Dad’s initial and was quite put out that I did boring traditional slits instead of using letters for the rest of them!

Turkey pot-pies!!!

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Dec 192012

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Dec 092012

Turkey soup!

If you’re like me, when you’re cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey carcass (with plenty of bits of meat still clinging to the bones) starts to look a lot like opportunity. I am loathe to ever throw away any animal bones: you can make too many delectable things with them (well, really, I’ve only ever made stock with the bones, but you can make so many things with the stock that it totally counts).

I’m also well-known for not thinking that turkey sandwiches are the bee’s knees. Given left-over turkey, there are several other things that I’d rather make with it, and one of them is soup! I have such a proclivity to it and The Hubs has such a proclivity for the sandwiches that we have always ended up in turkey-turf-wars about how the leftovers are going to be used. Not being possessed of two ovens but still needing to make several sides while the sacrificial bird is cooking, we grill our turkey so the birds we buy have to be relatively small so that it can fit on our Weber — hence, there’s not enough turkey to go around for both of our needs and strife ensues. This year, I avoided marital turkey-drama by buying two birds. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a solution to the problem, but then I went and shot myself in the foot by discovering turkey pot-pies, creating yet another need for large amounts of turkey. What’s a cook to do? And don’t you dare suggest I buy yet another bird: it’s not that it’s madness, it that there isn’t enough room in our cooler to brine three of them!

So, without any further adieu, I present a recipe for turkey soup, which is something my family has been making ever since I was a wee one. Like most soups, the ingredient list is more of a suggestion than a rule. It’s also slow-cooker friendly, which we found to be very welcome this year, since, well, y’know how on Thanksgiving Friday you don’t want to cook at all? Well, I kinda screwed that one up big-time by experimenting with the pot-pies, so come Saturday we really super-mega didn’t want to cook, but luckily I had slow-cookered up a big batch of this the night before. Victory, “turkey soup” is thy name.

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Oct 262008

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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Feb 262008

Note: While I have decided to leave this recipe on here for posterity’s sake, I really can’t endorse it anymore. This was posted six years ago, and I’ve since decided that low-fat diets are bad juju. If I were to make it again today, I’d replace fat-substitutes (such as the applesauce) and processed fats (such as the canola/safflower oil) with whole-foods ingredients and natural fats. Vive real food! — Stacey, April 2014

Muffins get a bad rap, and none more so than bran muffins. See, regular muffins are sugar-and-oil fests, full of empty calories, and most bran muffins are healthy but, well, made of twigs. Can there be a happy medium between these two extremes?

Of course there can be! Enter my breakfast-on-the-go juggernaut, the 150% whole grain banana nut muffin! Now, you may be asking yourself how the hell something can be 150% whole grain, and here’s your answer: grains are made up of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. White flour and other processed grains get poo-pooed (and deservedly so) because the nutritious and tasty germ and bran are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm which, while semantically being a complex carbohydrate, is treated by your body just like sugar, a simple carbohydrate. While most muffins are made of only white flour, this recipe is made up of whole-wheat flour (germ, bran, endosperm), oats (again, germ, bran, endosperm), wheat germ, and oat bran. Lots of good-parts-of-the-grain yumminess, see?

Muffins like ducks in a row

An astute reader like yourself may have picked up on the fact that while a couple of those ingredients are the fiber- and nutrient-rich parts of the grain, they do not in fact contain all three parts. So I guess it’s not technically whole-grain, but really, when you’re only removing the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff it’s easy to see that it has way more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, so it’s like an endosperm with twice the bran and twice the germ, and hence, 150% whole grain! Don’t argue with me on this one, I majored in math and I’ll come up with some convoluted argument to prove that It Is So.

So that’s enough science geekery, let’s stop talking nutrition and start talking yumminess!
This recipe is awesome because it manages to be low-fat without tasting overly low-fat. Yes, when you bite into these muffins you can tell that they are healthy and nutritious, but they are still wonderfully moist and flavorful. That’s because applesauce, oil’s favorite understudy, has gotten its chance to shine in this recipe, and when it teams up with the bananas you get a moist, remarkably un-twig-like consistency. When you add in things like toasted pecans, flax, raisins, and the grains, you get a complex flavor profile that keeps your tastebuds happy.

These are ideal for early-morning athletes and snooze-button-hitters since they are easy to take with you and eat, ensuring you get those morning calories your metabolism needs to function properly throughout the day. I always eat one on the way to swimming in the morning and if I think there’s a chance I won’t get to eat my daily oatmeal I always bring along a couple extra to tide me over until lunch. That’s another benefit to this muffin’s ingredients: in addition to being flavorful, they also keep you full for a long time. So what’s not to love? Skip that chemical delight breakfast you were going to grab on your way out the door and eat one of these instead!

Be wary of pretty muffins my Dad makes, but I swear these are good!

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